Mozilla Thunderbird to Find New Home as Mozilla Foundation Focuses on Mozilla Firefox

Thursday July 26th, 2007

On her weblog, Mozilla Corporation CEO Mitchell Baker has announced that Mozilla Thunderbird is to move to a "new, separate organizational setting" as the Mozilla Foundation continues to focus ever more closely on Mozilla Firefox.

While the Mozilla Foundation supports a number of projects, its taxable subsidiary the Mozilla Corporation is responsible for only Firefox and Thunderbird. However, it has become increasingly clear that Firefox is the priority. The resources allocated to Firefox dwarf those allocated to Thunderbird and recent projects such as the initiative to improve Mozilla support exclude Thunderbird.

Mitchell outlines three possible options for a new organisational structure for Thunderbird. One is to create a entirely new non-profit, which would offer maximum independence for Thunderbird but is organisationally complex. A second option is to create a new subsidiary of the Mozilla Foundation for Thunderbird, which would keep the Mozilla Foundation involved but may mean that Thunderbird continues to be neglected in favour of Firefox. A final option is to recast Thunderbird as community project, similar to SeaMonkey, and set up a small independent services and consulting company to continue development. However, there are concerns over how the Thunderbird product, project and company would interact.

On his new weblog, lead Thunderbird developer Scott MacGregor has posted his thoughts on the finding a new home for Thunderbird. He states that he favours the third option. Scott explains that this means that Thunderbird would continue to use Mozilla Foundation infrastructure, such as the CVS repository and Bugzilla, and the new company would perform a similar role for Thunderbird as the Mozilla Corporation does for Firefox, developing, releasing and supporting the application.

Observers of the Mozilla community may have seen Thunderbird's new home coming. In April, former Firefox lead developer Ben Goodger wrote a weblog post discussing autonomy for non-Firefox projects. He suggested renaming the Mozilla Corporation to the Firefox Corporation and pointed to a newsgroup message in which Mozilla Corporation CTO Brendan Eich declared "Thunderbird will have to fly free". Ten days later, Mitchell Baker wrote a weblog post on the Mozilla Foundation's focus on Firefox, stating that the Foundation's resources would be used to "assist other Mozilla participants and projects, but not equally with Firefox and not at significant cost to Firefox".

Update: In the text above, the sentence "While the Mozilla Foundation supports a number of projects, its taxable subsidiary the Mozilla Corporation is responsible for only Firefox and Thunderbird" was potentially misleading. The Corporation provides significant support to projects other than Firefox and Thunderbird in terms of hardware, services and personnel.

It would be more accurate to say that Firefox and Thunderbird are Mozilla products, which means that they get released, distributed and supported as end-user applications by the Corporation. Other applications, such as SeaMonkey and Camino, are Mozilla projects, which are made into products by volunteers or other organisations, if at all.

Thanks to Asa Dotzler for the clarification in comment 26 and comment 30 on this article.

#28 Re: not quite, alex

by AlexBishop <>

Friday July 27th, 2007 3:38 PM

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The distinction was supposed to be that while SeaMonkey, Camino and Bugzilla etc. are Mozilla Foundation projects, Firefox and Thunderbird are Mozilla Corporation products and as such receive greater support from the combined Foundation/Corporation operation (most notably in terms of development and marketing resources). Which is how I understood the split, at least back in 2005. I'm aware that in reality, the Corporation is responsible for operational matters while the Foundation is responsible for policy matters.

The intention was not to state that the Foundation provides operational support for all projects while the Corporation provides operational support Firefox and Thunderbird. It was more to state that the there are a number of projects under the Foundation umbrella but that the Corporation takes a greater interest in and responsibility for Firefox and Thunderbird. However, I agree that the sentence is unclear and an update is needed to clarify it. What would you suggest?

Do you think the distinction between Foundation projects and Corporation products really exists any more? (Did it ever?) I've never been too clear on the exact division (though with overlapping personnel and offices, it would probably be blurry in any case). I thought I understood it for a while but then I got thrown when the Mozilla Store was relaunched and it was a Foundation thing rather than a Corporation thing (given the inherent commercial nature of selling stuff, I thought it would have been part of the commercial Corporation). Frankly, I've found the increasing tendency to refer to the Foundation and/or Corporation with the ambiguous noun "Mozilla" less than helpful in figuring out who runs what. Maybe it only matters in terms of obscure tax regulations but I always got the impression that the division was supposed to be more than that.